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Tour de France Cycling News for July 13, 2005

Edited by Jeff Jones & John Stevenson

Stage 10 wrap: Armstrong back in control

Lance Armstrong back in yellow
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel) has regained control of the Tour de France after just one day out of the yellow jersey, finishing second behind Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears) in today's opening Alpine stage to Courchevel. Armstrong and Discovery Channel used exactly the same tactics that have worked for them in the past, riding a murderous tempo on the last climb with each team member pulling off until only Armstrong remained with Valverde, his teammate Francisco Mancebo, and polka-dotted jersey Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank). All of the GC favourites lost time to Armstrong today, and he now leads Rasmussen by 38 seconds, with Ivan Basso (CSC, 5th today) in third overall at 2'40.

The stage, which was shortened by 11.5 km because of a farmers' protest, saw a breakaway of seven go away almost immediately, with Laurent Brochard (Bouygues), Joost Posthuma (Rabobank), Yuri Krivtsov (Ag2r), Luís Sanchez (Liberty Seguros), Gianluca Bortolami (Lampre), Mauro Facci (Fassa Bortolo), and Inaki Isasi (Euskaltel Euskadi). The leaders gained 10'40 before Credit Agricole and Discovery worked to bring them back. On the first climb, the Cormet de Roselend, Jorg Jaksche (Liberty) and Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) set off to bridge the by then 4'00 gap, which they succeeded in doing before the start of the last climb.

Jaksche tried to stay away on his own, but it was to no avail as Armstrong's men ripped the peloton to shreds on the lower slopes of the 22 km climb, before he, Valverde, Mancebo and Rasmussen finished off the job with 6 km to go. Armstrong attacked in the final kilometre but couldn't shake Valverde, who came around him with 100m to go to take a clear victory.

Also see:
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Valverde confirms

By Hedwig Kröner in Courchevel

Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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Hailed as the greatest talent of Spanish cycling, 25 year-old Alejandro Valverde has pursued his rising career in his first Tour de France, confirming the high hopes his country's cycling community has put on him. Not only taking the White jersey of best young rider, the Illes Balears rider made a big impression by outsprinting Armstrong in the last meters of the 22.2 km climb to Courchevel.

At the start of stage 10 in Grenoble, Valverde told Cyclingnews, "Today, above all, I have to try to be in front with Paco [Mancebo]. I don't know about what attacks will be going on the first climb, but there will surely be plenty of attacking on the second." And the day proved to be very successful for both riders, as they were two of the three rare companions of an ever more powerful Lance Armstrong in the last seven kilometres.

"There are no words to express my happiness over this stage win," said Valverde after the race. "Winning at the Tour is most important, even more so in this stage. There really are no words for my feelings.

"Today was a great day for our team," he added. "I won the stage, and Paco and myself have moved up on GC. Now, we have to recuperate and look out on the next stages ahead."

Asked about his overall objectives for this Tour, Valverde replied, "One of my big dreams has been accomplished today, the stage win. So now, I will work for the team for the rest of the race, as Paco Mancebo is still our undoubted leader. He's also very strong, and we want to see what we can do to counter Armstrong, who appears to be as strong as ever."

Valverde suffered on the ascent to Courchevel, but still pursued with the possible perspective of winning the stage. "The beginning of the climb was extremely fast, at about 1000 km/h," he commented. "When Armstrong attacked and we reached the final kilometres Lance told us to work with him to keep up the speed, because it was such an important day for him. He just said 'let's go flat out'. Of course our objective was to get into the finish with him to try and take the stage."

When Valverde crossed the line just ahead of the American, he barely raised his arms, his face expressing pure pain. "It was really hard," he explained, still shaking his head. "First, Rasmussen attacked and I took his wheel. And after 500 metres, Armstrong went really fast, a tope [flat out] and I managed to take his wheel. It was very difficult and I nearly gave up... The only thing that made me drive on was imagining how it would be to win that stage."

In one impressive effort, the young Spaniard made his wish come true, but had trouble realizing the grandeur of his performance. "I'll only realize what I've done in a couple of hours, thinking back on it. It's such an important victory. But I have to continue looking ahead too on the next stages and on the work that has to be done there," a down to earth Valverde concluded.

T-Mobile blown off the back

By Hedwig Kröner in Courchevel

Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile)
Photo ©: Sirotti
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It has been an oft-repeated scenario in the last years, and stage 10 of this year's biggest bike race saw it happening again: an even more powerful Lance Armstrong took the yellow jersey on the first mountain stage, and the German T-Mobile team lost precious minutes in the general classification.

'Der Kaiser' Jan Ullrich finished 2'14" behind the Texan, after being dropped as Armstrong gave his last helper Popovych the signal to accelerate with 12 km to go on the ascent to Courchevel. The German is now placed eighth behind Armstrong, at more than four minutes overall. Somewhat angry and disappointed, Ullrich reflected on the reason of his weakness after the stage. "The crash is probably still a little handicap but I wouldn't have been able to get those two minutes even if I hadn't crashed," he said. "I really fought today, and I didn't lose out completely. My time loss is within certain limits, and the Tour will be over only in Paris."

The German is truly a great role model for persistence, as he will still not let today's deception wear him down, even though this has happened year after year, over and over again. "No, I won't give up. Last year, I had very good legs in the end of the Tour. I did feel good today, but of course I was in a little bit of pain from the crash. I don't know to what extent that had an effect on my performance. I felt good until the attack but then I blew up - too much lactic acid."

Ullrich did not think that he understimated the ascent to Courchevel either. "I know this mountain - on top, it actually rolls pretty well but once you're over the limit...I really have to thank Klödi who waited for me. Of course I'm angry at the fact that I couldn't hold the pace, but what can you do? Tomorrow is another day," he added.

Andreas Klöden, who helped his battling team captain, finished in the same group as him. But the third of T-Mobile's trident, Alexandre Vinokourov, could not hold Discovery's pace on that last climb and dropped off the back of the group with 12 km to go. The Kazakh was visibly struggling hard to hold on, but there was nothing he could do - he just seemed glued to the tarmac.

"I lost a lot of time on GC today, but I hope I will be better tomorrow. I will attack again," said Vino. It's hard, but I don't think we've lost the Tour now. I hope that Jan and Klödi were better today...I don't know anything yet. Who won?" he asked, as these words were his very first reaction after rolling over the finish line. A little later, Vinokourov told Reuters, "I'm not sure what happened. It's been a very bad day for me. The first climb was tough, but we got over that. On the second one, I completely lost it."

Inside T-Mobile, team doctor Lothar Heinrich speculated that Vinokourov had been the victim of a hunger knock, but the Kazakh denied this. He said that he didn't know what it was that blocked him. "This wasn't the Vino we all know," team director Mario Kummer concluded.

Jaksche "dead"

Jorg Jaksche
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
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Liberty Seguros's Jörg Jaksche was the last survivor of the early break and battled to stay away on the climb to Courchevel, launching a brave final solo attack 4km into the climb. It was not to be, as he was caught with 10km to go. Jaksche still managed to stay with the Ullrich/Landis Klöden group, eventually finishing the stage 2;19" behind Valverde and Armstrong.

Describing his condition after the stage in a team press release, Jaksche said, "Now I am dead, dead, dead! I did a brutal effort to try to win the stage, but I knew that it would be very difficult. When they caught me I tried to continue and in the end I have not lost too much time. I am satisfied with that, but I would have liked to have won, and for the team to have finished better."

Jaksche's team-mates Roberto Heras and Joseba Beloki both had sufficiently bad days that it wall take a miracle to put them into any sort of contention for podium places. Heras finished 42nd, 9'49" down, and now lies 36th on GC at 12'59". Joseba Beloki fared slightly better, but was still 5'36" back in 26th and is now 21st on GC, 8'31" adrift.

After the stage, Beloki said, "I went very badly the whole day; I believe that it has been a horrible stage for the whole team and also for me, especially in the last climb. I was expecting more, but I admit that I have gone too long without taking part in an important race and [today] I felt it. There is still a lot of racing left and I expect to be able to do better than today."

Heras said that he, "did not feel good from the beginning of the day and at the end I was very bad. ... I do not what has happened to me, because till now I felt very good. Because of that I hope that I was just having a bad day, because I felt very good [before]. Simply, my legs were not working today. I am now very far down in the general classification, but still nope to see if I can recover the form that I had before. I have suffered a very hard blow, but I will try to recover and tomorrow we will see if it was only a bad day."

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